Friday, November 27, 2015
Thought experiment inspired by Makoto Fujimura and Walker Percy, and the guy who was whistling "Little Drummer Boy" at O'Hare International Airport in March.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Sunday, October 04, 2015
Of course I don't remember the first. Nobody remembers the first. Little kids fall all the time. They're still babies, really, the first time they fall, and the second, and the third, and the umpteenth. Falling is part of learning to stand, learning to move. We call them toddlers because they toddle, and falling comes with the territory. No, the first time I remember falling was the first time it made an impact. The first time I fell and it mattered, the first time it hurt, the first time it made me feel like a failure. That time I was, I believe, five years old. I was at my neighbor's house, and he had recently gotten a skateboard. Not those twenty-first-century fatties but the dangerously narrow board of the 1970s, the kind of board your feet hang off at both heel and toe. I saw that board and I saw my future. It was glorious; I was triumphant. I climbed onto that board in a crouch, and of course it began to roll — slowly, wobbly, but I was determined. I kept my center of gravity low because standing up, I could walk away at any time, and I was committed. I kept my crouch, wedded to the board. Its fate would be my fate. We rolled down the driveway, my borrowed board and I. Never had the world passed beneath me so fluidly. Even on my tricycle I had to work, and I would feel the friction of my forward motion. Not here. Not now. Never had I moved so quickly. I felt like I was flying. It was my first taste of the world ahead of me, my first taste of freedom. And then I hit a bump. A crack, really. The kind of thing that would break your mother's back if you stepped on it, but to a five-year-old kid on a skateboard from the 1900s, it was an immovable object. My board and I were abruptly divorced; it stopped, and I fell forward. On to my knees, my hands, my face. The way I remember it, I broke a tooth. I cried. I'm sure of it. But not because of the pain. I cried at the betrayal of it — the board that let me fall, the universe that refused to protect one of its vulnerable citizens. I cried at the shame of it, that I would not be able to hide my failure from my family or friends, or even total strangers. My failure would be part of my smile forever. (Don't worry, it was a baby tooth; it would still be a few years before I broke teeth fully grown. But I didn't know that then.) So I fell, and I felt the full force of my failure. But I was only five - still a toddler, really. Forty years later I still remember it, and I'm sure in some ways my life has been shaped by it. But my life wasn't ended by it. I fell. I cried. I got up. And life went on. We fall. We cry. We get up. And life goes on. And we are shaped by the falling and the crying and even the getting up. But we are never stopped by it. And in fact we are shaped by the going on of it.
Monday, September 28, 2015
The music I've gotten the most excited about this year has been inherently and unashamedly unoriginal. Two albums were released that featured great singers covering songs by great songwriters. The songwriters are almost exclusively men; the singers are both women. I find it impossible to not compare the singers to each other, which I suppose is one of the many burdens of womanhood. The singers are both blasts from the past: Natalie Imbruglia, who came rushing out of Australian television in the mid 1990s with her devastating single "Torn," released her collection of interpretations of songs by male songwriters (Male) mid summer. It was followed in late September by Uncovered, the second collection of cover songs (third if you include her Christmas album) released by Shawn Colvin, best known for her mid-90s single "Sunny Came Home." I used to have a thing for both of them, if I'm being honest. These two singers could hardly be more different. Imbruglia had all the marks of a pop sensation when she broke. She had cut her teeth as a soap opera actress, and she looked the part. There was great drama in "Torn"; you could imagine her feeling "all out of faith ... lying broken on the floor." She sold the story of the song with her voice, and the video only drove it home for her. Meanwhile, Shawn Colvin had come from the ground; paying her dues in the heartland before taking a risk on New York, "walking these streets forlorn" (maybe the least impressive phrase in her brilliant song "Polaroids") until she won a Grammy for her first record and again years later for "Sunny." Imbruglia was a pop princess; Colvin was a folk goddess. I used to have a thing for both of them, if I'm being honest. The heyday for both singers was a millennium ago, of course. But they have not gone away, and this year they both had great ideas for albums. Imbruglia's Male was a kind of thought experiment: These guys wrote these great songs; how would their meaning, their resonance, change if the voice behind them were a woman's rather than a man's? What emerges from the songs when their arrangements come from the heart of a woman? "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley.) I only recognized half of the songs on Colvin's "Uncovered," and most of those songs are either deep tracks or decades removed from cultural memory. Here the song itself is the point, not the space between interpretations or the role of gender in making meaning. If Imbruglia is a singer interpreting other singers; Colvin is a songwriter paying tribute to fellow songwriters.